An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

007 after Amazon: The more things change…

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Amazon’s agreement to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer this week got a lot of attention. But it’s only now sinking in that, from a James Bond perspective, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Wall Street Journal today published a story about Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Danjaq LLC and its Eon Productions company and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson.

For decades, the Bond franchise has had unusual management. Danjaq/Eon mostly has creative control while the owners of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have the power the purse and finances the films. The latter is not insignificant. But with other franchises, a studio and its owners have total control.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal’s story.

One executive compared the pair’s decision-making power on Bond to George Lucas’s control over the “Star Wars” universe before he sold Lucasfilm Ltd. to Disney—which has mined its characters and story lines for new movies, TV shows and theme-park attractions. Those who have worked with Mr. Wilson and Ms. Broccoli said not to expect a similar evolution: They have rebuffed past offers to explore spinoffs or hand Bond over to a larger entity.

Assuming Amazon secures regulatory approval for its $8.45 billion purchase (including assumption of debt) of MGM, things should stabilize financially. MGM has been a series of financial soap operas for decades, including a 2010 bankruptcy.

But creatively? Perhaps not so much. James Bond films coming out more often? I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on that. Barbara Broccoli has a plate full of non-Bond projects, including plays and small-scale “Indie” style movies.

It still comes down to this: Danjaq/Eon doesn’t finance its films. It needs a studio to supply the funds. The studio/studio owner involved needs Danjaq/Eon to produce a Bond movie. One side cannot move without the other.

From the standpoint of James Bond films, you might not expect a lot of changes soon. Enjoy No Time to Die (hopefully it makes its current fall 2021 release date). Bond 26 may not come out very soon after that.

Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition Part III

An Amazon logo

All those news reports were mostly correct, Amazon said it agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. Naturally, the blog still has questions.

So, does Amazon own MGM right now?

No. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval. It can’t close until then.

How long is that going to take?

Likely months. Maybe even the better part of a year. Amazon, an e-commerce giant, has emerged as a big, powerful company. Regulators are likely to take a close look.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is one of the world’s richest men. That alone, guarantees the deal won’t be rubber stamped.

How will this affect the James Bond franchise?

In the short run, not much. Presuming Amazon completes the acquisition, it will want to get to know Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions better. But MGM only controls half of the Bond franchise and Broccoli and Wilson have a lot of control.

It’s possible that Amazon still won’t own MGM this fall when No Time to Die is scheduled to be released.

In the longer run? That remains to be seen. Could Amazon try to buy out the Broccoli-Wilson family? Perhaps. But, if it were me, there’s no point attempting that until you complete the big MGM film.

UPDATE: Broccoli and Wilson sent a statement to Variety: “We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience,”

What’s driving this?

Streaming, in a word. Netflix is concentrating on developing movies and TV shows it owns rather than relying on studios. Some studios, meanwhile, are in streaming as well. For Amazon, getting MGM’s library (much of which is the old United Artists library) as a big programming source for Amazon Prime.

Didn’t MGM dismiss stories it was in talks with Amazon as “speculation in the media”? Were they fibbing?

Could be. MGM wouldn’t be the first company to use this trick while in merger talks.

Will the MGM name survive in the long run?

Despite decades of financial ills, the MGM name and its Leo the Lion logo are still well known. I suspect (assuming the Amazon deal is completed), the MGM logo will survive but it may say “an Amazon company” beneath it.

Anything else?

On May 24, the blog had a post predicting more Jeff Bezos jokes if the Amazon-MGM deal was announced. It has been a tidal wave of Bezos and Amazon puns today.

Amazon agrees to acquire MGM for $8.45B

Amazon logo

Amazon said today it agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for $8.45 billion.

“Amazon will help preserve MGM’s heritage and catalog of films, and provide customers with greater access to these existing works,” the tech company/e-commerce giant said in a statement.

MGM’s financial state has been in flux for decades, including a 2010 bankruptcy. Since that bankruptcy, MGM has been controlled by a group of hedge funds.

If the deal is completed — and it’s subject to regulatory approval — MGM may stabilize under Amazon ownership.

Amazon didn’t estimate how long regulatory approval will take. It’s possible such review won’t be completed by Sept. 30, when No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, is scheduled to be released in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

As things stand now, No Time to Die will be released by United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures, in the U.S. and by Universal internationally..

For Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, the deal means adjusting to yet another MGM ownership. The Bond franchise has been linked to the studio since MGM acquired United Artists, 007’s original studio, in 1981.

Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition Part II

Amazon logo

The momentum for an acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Amazon seems to be accelerating. Or is it? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Have things gotten more serious?

The Wall Street Journal, in a May 24 story, says MGM’s board was briefed on Sunday about negotiations. The financial newspaper also said a deal could occur as early as this week.

On the other hand, the Journal also said there are “no guarantees” the talks will yield a deal. That sounds like talks are indeed serious but not locked down yet.

If Amazon buys MGM, how might it affect James Bond?

Amazon is a financially successful company. That may mean more stability at MGM, Bond’s home studio. MGM bought United Artists (Bond’s original studio) 40 years ago and it has been one bit of drama after. That included a 2010 bankruptcy.

The Journal story made it sound like the basic Bond dynamic won’t change. MGM and Danjaq/Eon (the Broccoli-Wilson family) . MGM and Danjaq/Eon share the franchise but Danjaq/Eon controls the direction.

Of course, never underestimate the power of the purse. Danjaq/Eon relies on MGM to finance Bond films. Amazon buying MGM would mean a new set of executives exercising that power.

Should I worry about this?

You should avoid worrying about things you can’t control. Amazon is a streaming power and is on the lookout for “content” it can control directly. Netflix is doing the same thing with its original movies and TV shows. AT&T decided it wasn’t cut out to be a media power and has agreed to combine WarnerMedia with Discovery.

In other words, it’s like what was once said about Willard Whyte. People are playing monopoly with real buildings — or studios or television channels or whatever.

Anything else we should expect?

Expect a lot more jokes about how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos looks like a James Bond villain. YouTuber Calvin Dyson did so in a May 19 video. The Gizmodo website, in summarizing the Journal story, went for the gag in the headline. (“Jeff Bezos, a Real-Life Bond Villain, May Own James Bond Very Soon”)

Amazon near deal to acquire MGM, WSJ says

Amazon is near an agreement to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for $9 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

An accord may occur as early as this week barring last-minute complications, the financial newspaper said. MGM’s board was briefed on negotiations on Sunday, the Journal said, citing a “person close to the situation.”

There are “no guarantees” an agreement will be reached, the paper said.

MGM last week reported first-quarter financial results. During an investor call, Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay called reports about negotiations “speculation in the media.” Variety reported May 17 that Amazon was in talks to acquire MGM for about $9 billion.

The new report by the Journal makes it sound as if the studio’s relationship with the Bond franchise would remain the same. An excerpt:

MGM shares the James Bond franchise with a holding company owned by the Wilson/Broccoli family, who co-own the copyright to existing Bond movies and control the future of the franchise. The next James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” was repeatedly delayed due to Covid-19 and is now scheduled for release in October.

No Time to Die has been delayed five times, with three of those occasions stemming from COVID-19. The first two delays took place because of the replacement of director Danny Boyle by Cary Fukunaga. The movie’s original release date was fall 2019.

At $9 billion, an MGM acquisition would be the second-largest for Amazon behind its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, according to the Journal.

Amazon is a major player in streaming. MGM’s library of films and TV shows would be a source of in-house programming. Much of that library is from United Artists, Bond’s original studio, which MGM bought in 1981.

MGM’s library does not include classic movies and TV shows originally made by MGM before the mid-1980s. Such movies as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain, and Mutiny on the Bounty are part of the Warner Bros. library.

UPDATE (8:45 p.m. New York time): Bloomberg came out with a story matching the Journal reporting. Bloomberg’s story says a deal could be announced on Tuesday. It has the usual caveats, i.e. things could change, etc. The story is behind a paywall; the site forced me off the story before I could finish it.

MGM stays mum on report about talks with Amazon

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer refused to comment Thursday about a Variety report that the studio is in talks to be acquired by Amazon.

“We are aware of speculation in the media,” Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay said at the end of a prepared presentation about first-quarter results. The executive didn’t reference Amazon by name.

Kay said the company only take questions about first-quarter performance. No questions about Amazon were asked.

Variety reported May 17 that Amazon and MGM were in talks where the studio would be bought for $9 billion.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 owned by hedge funds. Such funds typically look for a relatively quick turnaround and sale so they can turn a profit. MGM’s hedge fund owners have held onto the studio for longer than normal.

Pro tip: Companies involved in major moves (restructurings, deal negotiations) often refer to stories such as the Variety report as “speculation.” That is until the major moves are ready to be announced.

Regardless, this week’s investor call mentioned No Time to Die once. It was basically referenced as part of why MGM will have great second-half financial results.

Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition

Amazon logo

A few days ago, Variety reported that Amazon was in talks to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio of James Bond. Naturally, the blog has questions.

Is this serious?

Yes. Variety is a serious-minded outlet among the Hollywood trade publications. MGM also is a runt among the Hollywood studios and, in the long run, needs to be part of a bigger organization.

Is this a sure thing?

No. By Variety’s account, talks are still underway. Even if Amazon and MGM strike a deal, it will be subject to regulatory review. On occasion, acquisition agreements are reached but flak from regulators cause them to be undone.

What’s the broader context?

The movie and TV industry is facing a lot of changes because of the rise of streaming and the emergence of Netflix as a major player. MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, owned mostly by hedge funds. Those hedge funds have held onto MGM for longer than such funds normally hold onto assets.

Put another way, MGM is a source of programming for a streaming service (and Amazon plays in that space in a big way). Acquiring MGM gives you access to a number of franchises and properties including Bond. Now might be a good time for MGM’s hedge fund owners to cash out.

Could this affect release plans for No Time to Die?

I suspect not. Even if a deal were announced an hour after this post were published, getting regulatory approval may take months. That’s usually the case with big acquisitions. As things stand now, No Time to Die is scheduled to come out on Sept. 30 in the U.K.

But, in the meantime, if you’re an Amazon Prime member in the U.S., you can watch Call Me Bwana (Eon’s second film, made between Dr. No and From Russia With Love) or Operation Kid Brother, Neil Connery’s spy film made, more or less, because he was Sean Connery’s brother.

Amazon in talks to acquire MGM, Variety says

MGM logo

Amazon is in negotiations to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for about $9 billion, Variety reported.

MGM has been owned by a group of hedge funds since the studio emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. MGM reportedly has been for sale for months. According to Variety, talks have taken on new urgency. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Amazon’s interest in acquiring the studio has taken on a new tenor beyond the usual rumor mill. The deal is said to be being orchestrated by Mike Hopkins, senior VP of Amazon Studios and Prime Video, directly with MGM board chairman Kevin Ulrich, whose Anchorage Capital is a major MGM shareholder.

MGM and Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise. MGM is one of the last of the independent studio operations available for aquisition.

Bond would be one of the major properties that would interest a buyer. MGM also controls the likes of The Pink Panther and Rocky/Creed franchises. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981

Amazon runs the Amazon Prime streaming service. The company, founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has been expanding its entertainment properties.

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film is scheduled to be released this fall. United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna, is to distribute the movie in the U.S. Universal will handle international distribution.